Better capitalists?
A Workers’ Inquiry into democratisation and employee ownership

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Purpose – The purpose of this research is to explore democratised strategic control within Employee Owned (EO) organisations. Methodologically it explores a new Workers’ Inquiry approach to participatory research which combines democratic experience with reflexivity.
Design/methodology/approach – The research has at its core a Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) methodology combined with an Extended Case Method. These constitute a sympathetic and appropriately democratic approach to the subject. Research participants are booksellers from a business transitioning to becoming EO, with input and support from an existing EO company in the same industry sector.
Originality/value – The research makes a valuable contribution to understanding the interplay of control and power in the contemporary workplace. Through its use of praxis, it extends existing theories to expose how changes in bureaucratic structure have led to opportunities for democratisation, with a simultaneous challenge of reverse dominance hierarchy. This is explored through workers’ own experiences of their changing roles in a firm undergoing succession to EO.
Findings - The findings of the research demonstrate how changing social relations of production, due to technological pressures and a need for flexibility and efficiency, are undermining long standing theoretical predictions of degeneration for democratised firms. It also throws light on power relations within a rapidly changing retail, and bookselling sector and how technology has impacted upon this. The thesis makes a significant contribution in developing participatory research methodology with an innovative use of Workers’ Inquiry.
Practical implications – This research challenges the one-dimensional view that organisations can only be democratised through structures which are then doomed to slow decision making and inclined to degeneration. It creates other avenues for research in ownership culture and more permanent changes in corporate structures beyond those within Employee Ownership.
Date of Award12 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorSimon Smith (Supervisor) & Paul Sheeran (Supervisor)


  • Employee ownership
  • Power
  • Industrial democracy
  • Marxism
  • Critical participatory action research
  • Extended case method
  • Workers' inquiry

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